The first of the five transcendentals is truth. Aristotle said that our ability to ask questions is the beginning point of all knowledge – and therefore the beginning point of science and civilization.
Why Do We Ask Questions?
We use our power to ask questions so much that we take it for granted – not realizing that it separates us from the rest of the animal kingdom and is one of the major causes of human aspiration, creativity, and progress.
We not only have the capacity to ask questions, but to ask them continuously until we have arrived at the complete set of correct answers to the complete set of questions.
What would have happened if we did not have this power to continuously ask questions until we arrive at complete knowledge? Let’s go back in time to the 1800’s and suppose that we no longer had the capacity to ask questions.
If we never asked the question “Can I get energy from hot water?” the steam engine would never have been discovered and there would be no transportation by train today.
Similarly, if we could not ask the questions “What causes the sun to emit light?” and “What about the shape of a bird’s wings enables it to fly?” then we literally would not have quantum mechanics, radios, televisions, atomic bombs, airplanes, or an awareness of the galaxy.
As we can see, with continuous questioning, human knowledge becomes greater, and the greater it becomes, the more civilization advances. Science books are always undergoing revision, because knowledge improves with newer questions.
We know the universe, earth and man were not created in 7 days with the scientific knowledge we have today, but this knowledge requires a scientific revolution and the discovery of both simple and complex scientific instrumentation – which all came from questioning – continuous questioning.
Why do we ask questions? Because we are aware that there is something more – something beyond — what we currently know. But how do we know that there is something beyond our current state of knowledge before we actually know it? We must have some awareness of what is to be known – what awaits us if we continue to ask questions and get answers.
Awareness of Transcendent Truth
We not only have the ability to ask questions, but to ask them continuously until we have reached the complete set of correct answers to the complete set of questions. The only thing that will stop our questioning is the achievement of complete knowledge – for then there would be no additional questions to be asked.
But what gives us this capacity to ask questions continuously until we have reached perfect knowledge or ultimate truth? We must have an awareness of not only something to be known, but all that is to be known – perfect knowledge or ultimate truth.
If our knowledge at any given point does not correspond to our awareness of “all that is to be known” then we will naturally ask another question – and another question – and another question until we reach our goal of ultimate truth.
What is this awareness of perfect knowledge or ultimate truth that enables us to continuously recognize imperfections in our current knowledge, and incites us to relentlessly seek it through further inquiry? It can’t be perfect knowledge itself because if we had perfect knowledge, we would not have to ask another question.
The Horizon of Perfect Knowledge
So what is this “awareness of perfect knowledge” if it is not perfect knowledge itself? Contemporary philosophers such as Bernard Lonergan and Karl Rahner call it a horizon of perfect knowledge. Recall that as we look toward the horizon we know that something is out there without knowing exactly what is out there.
So what Lonergan and Rahner are saying is that we have an awareness that there is an “all that is to be known” beyond us, and also that what we currently know is not the “all that is to be known.”
So where do we become aware of “this horizon of all that is to be known”? As noted above, we could not have become aware of it from the world around us, because the world around us has only partial answers to our questions. It cannot provide a correct answer to every question that can be asked.
Moreover our brains cannot do this either because it operates according to restricted structures and processes. So there must be a source of our horizon of all that is to be known (the horizon of ultimate truth) that is commensurate with ultimate truth itself.
In other words, perfect truth itself must produce the horizon of ultimate truth within us.
What is Perfect Truth?
So what is ultimate truth itself? Many philosophers believe that it is a perfect idea which contains the answers to all questions – a perfect idea which must be generated by a perfect act of thinking – which can only occur through a perfect cause – namely, God.
So God (a perfect act of thinking) must be present to us—presenting us with a horizon of ultimate truth that causes us to see the imperfection of every other partial truth. This recognition of every partial truth causes us to ask questions continuously, until we attain perfect knowledge.
This presence of God (as the horizon of ultimate truth) within you makes you transcendental – beyond the restricted, imperfect, physical world.
In our next post, we will address the second transcendental: Love.